Books about other people's cute kids: Again, this may be a matter of personal taste. Clearly somebody is buying these. But all the many, many books that celebrate motherhood with cute pictures of other people's babies strike me as strange. Because every mother worth her salt thinks her kids are far cuter than those in Motherhood Is Not for Sissies, or the funny little moppets in the Baby-gami wraps. Same goes for books full of cute sayings from other people's children: I love the idea behind Why We Love Moms. Little ones do say the darndest things. But since we all secretly believe that our own kids are even handsomer and say even cuter things, the only purpose of such books is to highlight the fact that our own extremely cute and witty children actually need a haircut.
Homework books: The Barnes & Noble tables groan under piles of journals and scrapbooks that one is meant to give one's mom to fill out, perhaps once she's finished putting the boots and mittens away. One example is Motherhood: A Guided Journal (it comes with a 60-minute CD of inspiring music). But there are dozens more out there. Pass on these, even though the thought is a nice one. The last thing Mom needs on Mother's Day is homework. After all, she already has yours to finish.
With the do-not-buy list out of the way, let's launch into some books that might work for your Mother's Day gift, so long as you recognize that at bottom, many of these ask Mom to change. Depending largely on her tolerance for escapism—and bearing in mind that Brad Pitt is allegedly back in play—perhaps the perfect Mother's Day book could remake your mother into one of the following:
The Sex in the City mom: Scores of books feature the ubiquitous chick-lit pink cover and the ubiquitous chick-lit black-line drawings of skinny moms in boots with a clever little line drawing of baby on her hip. If your mom wants to indulge fantasies of being one of a posse of "warrior women ... with chic hair, well-toned triceps in tiny tees" who lunch on salads and serve on charity boards, Living the Posh Mom Life is for her. Ditto The Hot Mom's Handbook.
The Summers in Nantucket mom: If Mom dreams of J. Crew seersucker flapping in an ocean breeze, there are scads of sweet books out there referencing the need for summers on the Cape and trips to a crab shack. She'll enjoy The Fun Book for Moms, even if there are no lobster huts in Denver. Same with Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift From the Sea, still my all-time favorite book about mothering, ever.
The Food Channel mom: Lots o' cookbooks on the Just for Mom tables, I think because the one area of "self-improvement" that still feels like pure porn for most moms is cooking. So I say bring 'em on. Bring 'em, bring 'em, bring 'em. Keep your Brad, Angelina. Real moms heart Jacques Pepin.
The Buddha mamma: Perhaps because they are the only books that don't try to change us (or, to put it as the Buddha might, because they are the only books that acknowledge that everything changes), I'm a sucker for the Zen mothering books. There's a lovely new book called Mommy Mantras that distills—in small read-while-they're-bathing units—great wisdom about the madness and mindfulness of parenting. Same for the wonderful Blessings of a Skinned Knee, as well as Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn's Everyday Blessings. (I confess here that if Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote a book about starting up my own dude ranch, I would read that, too.)
Now, I'm no Buddhist, but it does seem to me that the greatest cliché of motherhood, "I don't need anything but you, my darlings," is also one of its great truths. If I've learned anything from my own mom, it's that 99 percent of Mother's Day is reveling in the clichés: the tea with milk and lemon we'd reverently serve up each May; the weird Taurus necklace we bought one year (she's a Sagittarius), and the Krystle Carrington beaded sweater we got her the next. So, even if you bring us weird sex books or auto-repair books with the soggy cereal and the buttercup, all we really do need is you. But maybe, maybe this year, you'll let us sleep in 'til 8:25 before you do.